Fri, Mar 02, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Making rebels with a cause

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Pankaj Mishra will discuss India's complex democracy.

Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) is disillusioned with Taiwan's political scene. Fed up with the constant partisan bickering and lunch-box battles in the legislature, the founder and president of the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation (龍應台文化基金會) — a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Taipei — hopes to provide an antidote to Taiwan's political chaos through hosting a series of lectures called Taipei Salon (台北沙龍). The lectures are conducted in English.

Begun last year, Lung's idea combines the French institution of literary salons with modern ideas on how to create a civil society — where an informed citizenry is empowered to make intelligent voting decisions, participate in politics and hold government and industry to account.

"[We] want to have an impact on society through intellectual discussion ... away from [the] narrow path of political fighting or reform," Lung said in an interview.

Creating a civil society is something that Lung knows a lot about. Appointed Taipei City's first cultural csar in 1999, during her four-year term she designed and implemented a cultural policy that increased the visibility of the arts in the city. With 15 book titles to her name, the current chair of arts and humanities at Tsing Hua University frequently publishes critical essays in European magazines and newspapers on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

This month's lectures begin tomorrow with Jean-Claude Poimboeuf, Director of French Institute in Taipei, who will discuss how the French maintain their unique cultural identity in the age of globalization.

On March 17, Pankaj Mishra, a novelist and contributor to the New York Times, will talk about India's path to democracy. This month's series will end on March 24 with Julian Nida-Ruemelin — professor of political theory and philosophy at the University of Munich and a former minister of culture — who will discuss the relationship between globalization and democracy.

Lecture notes:

What: “Globalization: How does the French do it?” by Jean-Claude Poimboeuf; “Poor but democratic: Democracy in India in the age of globalization” by Pankaj Mishra; and “Democracy: Normative constituents, present challenges and future prospects” by Julian Nida-Ruemelin

Where: Taipei Salon (台北沙龍) at Yuehan Hall (月涵堂), 110 Jinhua St, Taipei (台北市金華街110號) for the Poimboeuf and Mishra lectures and National Central Library Conference Hall (國家圖書館國際會講廳), 20 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei (台北市中山南路20號) for the Nida-Ruemelin lecture

When: Tomorrow at 2pm for Poimboeuf; Saturday March 17 at 2pm for Mishra; and Saturday March 24 at 2pm for Nida-Ruemelin

Details: Lectures are conducted in English without translation; admission is free but those attending must pre-register by calling (02) 3322-4907, or online at

Past speakers include David Plott, the former editor-in-chief of The Far Eastern Economic Review and current professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong, and Jurgen Gerbig, Director of the German Cultural Center in Taipei.

By conducting the lectures in English, Lung hopes that foreigners will attend the lectures and participate in the discussions.

"I suspect [expats] have been closed up — because of the language barrier — in their own circles, which is not fair because they are citizens of the city," she said. "But so far we have not been able to reach the expat community because we don't know where they are."

Though foreigners are invited to participate, the youth of Taiwan are the real focus of Lung's salon.

"We want to get in touch with the younger generation," she said. "We are disappointed with anyone over 40 — so we decided to carry on a dialogue with people under 40," she added jokingly.

"We want to … cultivate the minds of the younger generation so that they are open-minded ... are concerned about global issues [and] ... have compassion for the weaker, whether in terms of income, resources, or in environmental areas — global citizenship in other words.

Though a tall order, Lung has found remarkable success with Taipei Salon. The last two lectures saw the auditorium at Yuehan Hall (月涵堂) packed to capacity with everyone from high school students to young professionals.

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